‘For my own pressing need:’ the adoption (or not) of clauses in Egyptian and Gazan legal documents
Elizabeth Buchanan (University of Oxford)
Greek debt acknowledgments in Byzantine Egypt have a standardized format with formulaic clauses. These clauses occasionally go through changes that were adopted first in Alexandria and then in the rest of Egypt. Many of these changes were also adopted in Gaza, which may indicate that they originated in Constantinople. One of these clauses, the debtor acknowledgment that the loan has been made for his or her own pressing need, is sufficiently well attested that its adoption and later changes can be tracked. An interesting change occurred at the end of the fifth century and lasted until the mid-seventh century. During that period, the clause shifted from the singular (εἰς ἰδίαν μου καὶ ἀναγκαίαν χρείαν) to the plural (εἰς ἰδίας μου καὶ ἀναγκαίας χρείας) in many locations. The first loan in which this plural version of the clause is attested came from Alexandria and is dated to 499. The plural version of the clause then appeared in Oxyrhynchus and Hermopolis in the 520s, in Arsinoe in the 530s, in Antinoopolis in the 560s, and in Nessana in the 570s, the majority of which locations are attested as having previously used the singular form. One of our only debt acknowledgements from Constantinople, dated to 541, also reflects the plural form. Clausal changes were not always permanently adopted. In Hermopolis and Arsinoe, for example, the plural clause was used and then the contract writers returned quickly to the original singular form. By contrast, the plural form was used exclusively in Oxyrhynchus for almost a hundred years. This pattern reflects the interplay between legal practice and local acceptance, and may also shed light on the process of clausal dissemination and adoption in Egypt.